Gender equality a key tool to accomplishing economic goals

Gender equality a key tool to accomplishing economic goals

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Gender equality a key tool to accomplishing economic goals

‘We are very sensitive to mothers in our company,” says Nur Ger (R) talking to the Daily News in her office at the top of a textile facility. As the owner of her own company, she is also active in several NGO’s. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

The government should stop seeing gender equality as an issue of social policy if it wants to reach its aim of becoming the 10th biggest economy in the world, said Nur Ger, a top Turkish businesswoman.
Achieving gender equality is a tool for economic development, and a recent report from the World Bank proves this argument based on economic parameters, said Ger, the head of the gender equality working group of Turkish Industry & Business Association (TÜSİAD).

The World Development Report 2012 released last week looked at the issue of development from perspective of gender equality. According to the report under-investing in girls and women puts a brake on poverty reduction and limits economic and social development.
“We lag behind world average in women in labor force. An additional 5 percent of female participation in the labor force would reduce poverty by 15 percent,” Ger told the Daily News in a recent interview.

Q: What does the report tell you? 

A: It tells that women’s problems are the same everywhere in the world and that there is a correlation between these problems and poverty. Women and their children have higher levels of suffering in direct proportion to the level of poverty. 

Women constitute 12 percent of the CEOs in Turkey and that is higher than the world average, which is at 5 percent for OECD member countries.
Q: What does it tell us about Turkey?

A: The report focuses on the economics of gender equality. [If] female participation in the labor force [went up] 5 percent, poverty would be reduced 15 percent. In Turkey we transformed the economy in such a successful way that it has become a leading light, while other countries are in crisis. We did this through our determination. You can achieve results if you pursue economic policies with persistency, nd adopting a holistic approach. We have become the [world’] 16th biggest economy, we want to become the 10th biggest economy. The report says to countries, “If you allow your women up to the next level, this will speed up your economic transformation.” 

It also tells us not to see gender equality as a social policy issue: gender equality is smart economics. I want to repeat this message for Turkey: gender equality should be a tool for development.

Q: In other words, it should be an essential aim in order to reach the goal of becoming the 10th biggest economy?

It will be a nearly impossible goal to reach with the current level of gender inequality. Yet gender equality should be a primary consideration when trying to reach our economic development goals. They are saying it takes a long time to achieve results in social policies but in 10 years, we registered a change of 100 years in the economy. No one can convince me that it will still take 20 or 30 years to register change if we pursue gender equality policies with determination.

Is there any sign that the government might see gender equality as an economic development tool?

A: The prevailing view is this: First let’s deal with the economy and then we will deal with social policies. It’s not just this government, but previous governments have had a similar approach.

We need a reverse approach; we need to use the transformative effect of social policies on the economy. 

It seems the share of female participation in the workforce does not provide room for optimism.
The minister put the ratio of women at 30 percent, but the data we have states 26 percent. The government’s target is to increase this to 34 percent, while TÜSİAD says we can pull it up to 40 percent. The world average is 50 percent. So Turkey has already accepted gender disparity in its targeting. Indeed, according to these guidelines, by 2023, Turkey will be 10 percent below the world average. Even the targets we set are not ambitious. 

Q: If Turkey cannot reach the world average in gender equality, it will probably not be possible to reach the economic targets it has given itself for 2023, no?

A: As much as we say this, we cannot convince the politicians. At one stage the rhetoric was, “Our unemployment statistics would have looked better if women did not demand to work so much.” At other times we were told, “The economy has improved and male income has increased. Women have therefore stopped working since economically it is no longer necessary for them to work.” This is the sort of mentality we have, yet both men and women need to see that women should participate in the labor force, not because the household needs the income but because this is a way of living and being. 

The prime minister calls for women to have three children and has said he does not believe in gender equality. Is one of the problems the conservative nature of the government?

This is not only the view of this government, however. It would be unfair to say the prime minister is conservative when society itself is conservative and the prime minister represents this conservative part of society.

Gender equality a key tool to accomplishing economic goals


Q: What are the priorities for increasing women’s share in the labor force?

A: The first thing is childcare. We need to have daycare centers in every neighborhood, and they need to be affordable based on income levels. Women need to be able to leave their children with full confidence; what woman can work with full efficiency if she has anxieties about the kids she left behind? The ratio of childcare is only 12 percent, and this is 12 percent out of the 26 percent of women who are working.

So women do want to work?

Women want to work but there are also traditions, with family members asking, “Why do you need to work?” – just as my family asked me why I was establishing my own company. But traditions can be overcome.

Q: Is there any governmental action to increase female participation in the workforce?

A: In their program they have promised to give financial assistance to working mothers. I am actually optimistic, especially because of the words of Fatma Şahin, the minister responsible for women and families. Nevertheless, we need to speed up the implementation. 

Q: What should the private sector do?

A: Gender equality should become the norm, an important value, just as, let’s say, the environment became an important component of the business world. Recruitment, wage policies as well as promotions should be transparent. Flexible work can provide the possibility of keeping women in the labor force. But this should not be perceived as simply a possibility designed only for women and a disadvantage to them in their careers.

Q: Isn’t there anything positive about the position of women in the labor force?

A: On the contrary. Women constitute 12 percent of the CEOs in Turkey and that is higher than the world average, which is at 5 percent for OECD member countries.

Q: What’s your view on Minister Fatma Şahin?

A: I really appreciate her because she is very well informed. She accepts we have a lot of homework to do. She asks for contributions from civil society. The one thing I criticize is when she calls for patience.

But we need to act fast, not with patience.

Who is Nur Ger?

A graduate of Boğaziçi University, Nur Ger started her business career very early. After having worked at various textile companies, she formed her own company in 1986. She headed the Turkish Clothing Manufacturers’ Association from 1994 to 1996., when critical talks led to Turkey’s full entry into the customs union with the EU. 

She is a founding member of the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates (Ka-Der) and the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGİDER).
She is currently the head of the gender equality working group of the Turkish Industry & Business Association (TÜSİAD).

In 2000 she received the award for most successful businesswoman by daily Dünya, a prominent financial newspaper.